Pssst! The Free Market is Snake Oil! Pass it on!

I’m so tired of hearing about the “free market” as though it’s the perfect economic ideal.  It’s fiction.  Worse than that, it’s a lie.  And as it is with all successful lies, it’s entwined with enough truth to fool common sense if you’re not careful.

I believe in capitalism–as in capital investment in private enterprise for profit. It’s a beautiful thing.  And it works like gangbusters.

But the “free market” is capitalism in a vacuum.

An economy built on free markets–i.e., unregulated markets–is an economic theory.  And it’s an impossible economic theory at that.

The markets dictate everything?!

Let the chips fall where they may, argue the purists (country be damned, I guess).  Some will profit, others with perish.  C’est la vie.  Nevermind the fact that in deregulated markets companies can grow “too big to fail” and threaten to drag the entire economy down with them. I guess it’s better that a generation starves than a few bankers have to play by rules.

Free market supporters allege that industries will police themselves as a matter of sound business.  Utter nonsense.  Businesses are always cutting corners to make an extra buck.  Gun manufacturers pushed for  Stand Your Ground legislation and BP dumped 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico because they were too cheap to properly inspect their facilities.  Deregulation of Savings and Loan Associations in 1980 (under President Reagan) led to an $87 Billion crisis  ten years later and contributed to the to the U.S. recession in 1992.   Deregulation of banks in 1999 (under Clinton) and 2004 (under Bush) contributed directly to the financial crisis of 2007, the $700 Billion TARP bailouts in 2008, the $135 Billion+ bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in 2010, and our current global recession.

The fatal flaw in free market capitalism is that the markets are friends to no one.  They will always go to where the water is calm and the grass is greenest. They will decimate–or flat abandon–regions, nations, continents, even entire hemispheres if it is profitable to do so.

Poor enforcement of regulation has led to catastrophic mine collapses, oil spills, energy shortages, and nuclear meltdowns.  Unregulated markets in Central Africa and Southeast Asia have led to destitution, internecine conflict, and slavery.  It’s 3rd world hell.

Of course, a 3rd world economy might be the goal for many of the wealthy disciples of free market capitalism.  It’s to their benefit.  Money gets overwhelming power and influence.  Sure, labor conditions might be exploitative and dangerous.  Products and services might suck.  But profits will overflow.  (Eventually the quality of life goes down even for the wealthy.  They wind up stuck behind fortress walls and need an armed security detail to go shopping.  Unfortunately for everyone, their greed overwhelms their reason.)

Is that really the ideal?

If this was 1789 and most people were doing business in the town square, the argument for free market capitalism would have some merit.   But if I walk into a Wal-mart today, which way is the power dynamic skewed?

That is the flip-side of the free market dynamic.  Labor forces in modern nations are in often in direct competition with developing nations where wages are at bare subsistence levels–or lower–and regulations are dangerously lax.  Wages in developed nations are driven downward in order to remain competitive.  Buying power is consequently diminished among consumers, in which case less capital investment is made, leading to fewer jobs.  Who’s going to invest in a business in a place where no one has any money?

In this way, what is good for business can be detrimental to the country.  Corporate interests overrun consumer interests and it’s a race to the bottom.

The proof is in our current economic predicament.  We’ve had a devastating extraction of jobs and capital over the last twenty years.  Wages have stagnated and now threaten to recede.

So again I ask, how is this ideal?

The answer is that it’s obviously not.

Yet in propagating free market capitalism as the high standard–initially by conservatives, but now as political axiom–we have prioritized profits–for an already wealthy minority–above everything else, including our national economic security.

The term regulation has become anathema–2nd only to taxes–in 21st century political rhetoric.  Yet, much like taxes, they are essential.

As soon as you acknowledge that no one should be able to dump radioactive waste into the water supply or sell rat poison as apple juice, you have acknowledged that a truly free market is impossible, irrational, and not an ideal anyone should be aspiring to.

https://i1.wp.com/www.nabc.nl/Portals/0/images/going-up-550x425.jpgInstead, the ideal should be a well-regulated, capitalist system; one that balances the present and future interests of workers, consumers, communities, the nation, and the environment, while encouraging capital investment in private enterprise.  That is a strong economy.  It keeps workers and consumers safe and the environment protected; it also promotes a broad and robust middle-class to participate in the economy, not concentrating billions into the hands of a few.

We want lots of people buying cars and computers and trips to Disneyland, while putting money away for college and retirement without burying themselves in debt. That allows for stability as well as an attainable upward mobility that can spur the invention, innovation, and ingenuity necessary for successful private enterprise ventures.

I know, it’s a complex and highly variable ideal.  It requires expertise to navigate.  That is the necessary evil of a global economy that also carries the benefit of potentially elevating everyone’s quality of life in every income level across the globe.

We have to get past these simple-minded conventions from centuries ago.  Because the people in power who are perpetuating these ideas know that it’s a fallacy.  They’re just too greedy to help themselves.

Money out of politics.

Free. Thought.

There’s Justice in the Death of Death as Justice – Pt. 2

It appears a measure banning the death penalty may be on the ballot in California this November.  The 800,000 signatures gathered are currently being validated so we shall see.

I posted in a previous blog about the systematic racism inherent in the application of capital punishment, but in doing so I may have missed the greater point:

Innocent people are very likely being executed–in which case race or any other group identifiers are a secondary concern.  There is no way to be sure about how many wrongful executions have taken place because courts do not review the potential innocence of a convict after execution.  Resources are allocated to those whose lives can still be saved.

The execution of Claude Jones is a prime example.  Jones was executed in 2000 after George W. Bush’s clemency advisers failed to inform the Texas governor of  a request for a DNA test.   A hair allegedly coming from Claude Jones was the only evidence linking him to the crime scene.  The DNA technology was not available at the time of Jones’ conviction and Gov. Bush had stayed previous executions to allow for DNA testing.  In 2007, a judge ordered for a DNA test of the hair sample.  The results were not definitive, but suggested that the hair sample did not come from Jones.  (You can read more about Claude Jones and others who may have been wrongfully executed here.)

DNA evidence has played a key role in exonerating several death penalty convicts.  Unfortunately, DNA testing is impossible in a great majority of cases.  However, there are other evidential and procedural mistakes that lead to convictions of innocent people.

  • Confessions have been obtained by police through coercive interrogation tactics.
  • Faulty line up techniques and witness leading has strengthened inaccurate witness testimony.
  • Other characteristics, such as gang affiliation, drastically affect conviction rates, irrespective of the evidence.
Los Angeles District Attorney, Steve Cooley

There is also the political angle.  District attorneys, often elected to office, don’t want to look weak on crime.  Convictions rates sell better than satisfying justice.  An example of this is the injunction filed against Los Angeles district attorney Steve Cooley for retaliating against prosecutors who unionized  because they were being pressured to convict people they believed to be innocent.

Perhaps the best argument against continuing with the death penalty is the staggering (even prohibitive) cost of capital cases.  Simply put, it is far more expensive to execute a convict than to imprison that convict for life without parole.  In fact, several states have repealed or discontinued capital punishment solely because of the expense.

The exorbitant cost (roughly US$30 million per execution)  lies in the additional requirements imbued in death penalty cases.  There are typically twice as many attorneys involved; there are more pre-trial motions; jury selection is more in -depth and jurors are usually sequestered; two trials are required, one for guilt and one for sentencing; the actual trial tends to take 3-5 times longer; then comes the series of Constitutionally-mandated appeals, during which time, inmates are held in maximum security on death row at an additional cost of roughly US$90,000 per year, per inmate for a duration generally lasting between 10-15 years.  The appeals system is so backlogged it takes roughly 5 years just to get an attorney assigned (imagine if you’re innocent :().

This long, drawn out system full of multiple appeals is the source of much consternation for death penalty supporters.  Unfortunately for them, there’s not much that can be done in this regard.  The Fifth Amendment plainly states:

No person shall…be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.

So until the convicted have availed themselves of every legal process they are due, the state does not have the right to kill them.  It might seem like a hassle but it’s for good reason.  A Columbia Law School study showed that 68% of death penalty convictions are overturned on appeal and 82% of re-tried death penalty cases resulted in life sentences. In fact, only 1 in 10 death penalty convictions actually leads to an execution.

Death penalty cases are often motivated by the emotional response to the crime rather than a reasoned evaluation of the evidence.  Once reason is applied, juries find that most of these cases do not meet the death penalty standard–because you don’t just want to be sure, you want to be absolutely-fucking-positive of guilt.  That’s almost never the case, as the stats show.

We must also consider the toll death penalty convictions take on prosecutors and jurors.  These people are responsible for answering for the murder of one person (or more) with the murder of another.  We have to remember that in reality, capital punishment tests people’s conscience and moral compass.  It’s one thing to pontificate in the abstract and quite another to make the decision about a person you can look in the eye and live with it.

I am sympathetic to seeing violent, merciless killers pay the ultimate price for what they’ve done.  I would certainly want anyone who kills someone I care about to face execution.  But I am not so thirsty for revenge that I’d risk murdering an innocent person.

The death penalty does not deter crime.  It is extremely costly.   It’s rife with mistakes, politics, and abuse.  It’s bogged down with mandatory procedures.  It takes an emotional toll on everyone involved.  It has and will continue to kill innocent people.  It is a revenge tool primarily used by third world nations and despotic regimes–most of the modern world has abandoned it.  And in the end it does not bring the victims back.

If and when you cast your vote on this measure in November, it’s important to remember that it’s not about the morality of executing brutal murderers, it’s about whether or not you want to continue this terribly flawed, biased, and ineffective system.

You have to ask yourself if a little blood from the guilty is worth a little innocent blood and a lot of taxpayer money.

What I Hate About Republicans – Intro

Due to constructive-feedback from friends, I changed the title of this series of posts.

I have to begin with a caveat–not to soften my stance, but to make a distinction.

I do not hate conservatives.

In the many debates I’ve had with my conservative friends we could usually get to a point where finding some middle-ground at least seemed possible–if we didn’t reach it outright.  There are, of course, plenty of instances where we’ve agreed to disagree but it’s clear enough that our core principles aren’t so far apart.  I guess I’m saying that most of the conservatives that I’ve met have been pretty decent people.  They love America and they want what’s best for it.  That’s the reason I make the distinction.

The Republican party does not represent conservatives. Conservatives believe in fiscal responsibility, limited government, low taxes, a minimal (or nonexistent) welfare state, and strict interpretation of the U.S. Constitution.  However:

  • No Republican president has overseen a balanced budget in over 30 years.  (Anyone arguing that it was the Newt Gingrich-led congress that balanced the budget during Bill Clinton’s presidency would then have to explain why there wasn’t even an attempt to balance the budget under George W. Bush even though the GOP continued to control both houses of congress for his first 6 years in office).   Don’t buy into the attacks on Clinton or Obama, the GOP’s premise is that Republicans are fiscally responsible so the burden is on them to show that responsibility.

    The chart clearly shows that neither party can consider themselves deficit hawks.
  • Republicans don’t want limited government.  They want to stick their noses into our bedrooms, books, movies, music, schools, women’s wombs (figuratively), and hammer us over the head with their fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible–which flies in the face of the 1st (FIRST!) Amendment. President George W. Bush and his Republican-led congress actually increased the size of the federal government and attached ineffective, wasteful spending programs to Medicare and the Department of Education among others.
  • Republicans don’t want lower taxes; they do want to lower taxes for the rich, as evidenced by their intransigence on such things as corporate subsidies and the Bush Era tax cuts.  But their attempts to repeal the home mortgage interest deduction and shift the payroll tax credit away from employees, both of which primarily benefit the middle-class, show their true colors.  How can taxes affecting the middle-class not count?
  • Damn, Grandpa should'a been an oil tycoon.

    Republicans don’t want to end welfare.  Well, they want to end it for the poor and unemployed (or at least humiliate them by requiring them to take drug tests and other such folderol).  But they will fight tooth and nail to make sure the oil industry keeps every penny of their subsidies, even though big oil companies are among the most profitable businesses in the world. As a side note, many of the oil subsidies began as incentives to spur investment in oil production–which we can all agree is probably not necessary anymore.  Yet those same Republicans fighting to keep oil subsidies chafe against providing similar subsidies to clean and renewable energy.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made the point.  Republicans do not represent conservatives.  To be fair, Democrats are even worse at representing progressives, and disregard of the population is a common practice among politicians.  It’s the reason I have disdain for the Democrats as well (I’ll get to that later). The only real difference between the two parties is that Democrats still believe the government has a role in assisting the disabled and disadvantaged.  Republicans could care less.

Republicans see America from one perspective: the white heterosexual Christian male.  Obviously, a WASPy straight guy is a perfectly fine thing to be.  The problem is, the further you identify away from that, the more you find the Republicans pissing in your eye.  If you’re black, LGBT, Latino, Asian, Muslim, Native American, or a woman, they have no interest in helping you get to equal footing.  They admit there is discrimination, but do nothing to combat it…unless the they feel the discrimination goes against whites.

Thus we come to the first reason I hate the GOP: Bigotry.

Believe me, it’s the bread and butter of Republican politics.  Stay tuned for for part 1 to see why.

(Republican money machine image from: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/how-the-gop-became-the-party-of-the-rich-20111109.  Most profitable businesses image from: http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2009/12/most-profitable-global-companies/. Federal debt chart from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Federal_Debt_1901-2010_.jpg)